Last week BACstage Productions returned to the Berwick Academy stage with their abridged adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s classic comedy The Importance of being Earnest.
However as the curtains opened the cast were anything but ‘earnest’ in their performance and indeed Max Manning and Carl Laidlaw gave one of the most wooden portrayals of their acting careers; with Laidlaw’s out of key piano playing and Manning’s need to refer to his script as well as the starkness of the stage the audience could not help but feel cheated out of their £3 ticket fee.
However it soon became apparent that what the audience was witnessing was in fact not The Importance of being Earnest but a devised comedic prequel to the play itself.
Such a ‘rebooting’ of the source material would have been just Oscar’s cup of tea: he famously described the play, his most successful, as “A Trivial Comedy for Serious People”, and it is full of his trademark caustic wit and acerbic wordplay.
The nine Year 13 Performing Arts students demonstrated their ability to create their own drama as the somewhat shambolic rehearsal process was played out before the audience.
In this original piece of theatre the cast played what they insisted were fictional versions of themselves in rehearsal for a production of The Importance of being Earnest.
The plot unfolded to reveal a disjointed company with conflicting egos who it seemed would never be ready for opening night.
As the curtain closed on the first act, the audience were left wondering if they would ever get to see the play they’d actually bought tickets for.
But they weren’t disappointed. Act two, an abridged version of Wilde’s play, was a huge success.
The students had clearly got to grips with the subtlety of the playwright’s often double-edged and convoluted humour, and delivered many of his classic lines with sharp comic timing.
The professionalism of the acting in Act two was cleverly interspersed with more glimpses into the fragmented cast’s off stage banter as the scene changes during ‘Earnest’ descended in to chaos on a dimly lit stage – a nice touch which sewed both acts together seamlessly.
The small cast allows no slack, but none was needed.
Patrick Davenport and Carl Laidlaw were greatly entertaining as the two wry bachelors on the threshold of romance, John Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff.
Georgina Hogg and Nicole Mavin, meanwhile, as Cecily and Gwendolen proved that the cliche of Victorian women as placid, unthinking automatons in whalebone corsets was being sent up even before the 20th century. It is Cecily who takes her diary with her on train journeys because: “One should always have something sensational to read.”
Ina Gibson, as Miss Prism, and Max Manning as Dr Chasuble, provided a pair of older, if not wiser,heads in another ‘head over heels’ relationship, mirroring the glib youngsters.
Chris Campbell as the smooth Lane and Keira Thompson as Merriman helped pile wordplay on top of the ‘orchestrated chaos’ in the rehearsal scenes, all watched over, of course, by everybody’s favourite ‘bag lady’, Lady Bracknell, played by Leanne Hogg.